A small and unpretentious spot on the Upper East Side, Moti Mahal Delux serves Indian dishes with dazzling colors that showcase the Mughlai culinary heritage of the imperial kitchens of yore.
I recommend diving into the main courses and savoring every single bite of the dishes I am about to tell you about.
At the very least it’s worth trying the delicately flavored and tender grilled prawns tempered with curry leaves, Kadi Patta Jheenga ($22.95).
The stir-fried baby eggplant, mixed with onions, ginger, and tamarind sauce—which enhance the flavors with a gentle sour note—was a revelation (Baingan Patiala, $14.95).
I thought the heavens had opened and the angels were singing when I first tried the signature dish, butter chicken (Murgh Makhani Chicken, $16.95). I am not keen on chicken normally, but this one was divine. Made with Amul butter (an Indian brand of butter) with tomato purée and garam masala, it is creamy and rich, with notes that fill the palate, ending with a bit of heat spreading slowly throughout.
It was perfectly matched with the Lemon Rice, a mélange of rice, mustard seeds, curry leaves, and lemon juice ($6.95).
The delicate and buttery Daal Makhani ($15.95) was another signature dish that I relished. It is also cooked with the fabulous Amul butter and goes with almost everything on the menu.
The superb Rarha Gosht ($18.95), lamb with masala mince, is a rich and superb dish, and like most on the menu, takes a lot of care and time to prepare. It was tender and fabulously spiced—not hot but with a finish that seems to last forever.
And if you have space left, try the creamy, light, and not too sweet Kesari Kulfi and Ras Malai (each, $5.95).
Moti Mahal Delux was originally established in Peshawar, Pakistan, in the early 20th century. There, the clay oven (tandoori) delicacies met with immediate success. Later, it was introduced to India, and in 1975, a fine dining restaurant was opened in South Delhi. Slowly Moti Mahal Delux became a destination for world leaders as well as tourists.
The first U.S. outpost opened in 2012 in Manhattan. Most of the dishes on the menu are prepared from original family recipes passed down for many generations and the rest by the very talented and creative chef Anand Gaurav.
I’d met Gaurav before at the restaurant Awadh. I wondered why such a talented young person would leave his very successful business in India and start all over again in New York City without knowing anyone. It turns out he did it for love. His future wife was a student here in New York, and he decided that she would be his life partner.
It has been New York’s gain. Since then, he’s introduced New Yorkers to fabulous new experiences of Indian cuisine.
Moti Mahal Delux
1149 First Ave. (at 63rd Street)
Lunch noon–3 p.m.
Dinner 5 p.m.–11 p.m.